Monday, September 30, 2013

Why you should Choose to Cruise!

Cruising is something that we love to do
and I've been receiving a lot of questions as I review of our Baltic Cruise. 
So, I've decided to put all of my answers in a little series for you.
Cruising 101 with Selena

   Welcome to the first post in that new series!
 I met an interesting fellow on one of our recent trips.  We sat on either side of an almost empty bus, watching the Spanish countryside go by.  We were comparing travel stories.  He's been to hundreds of places and is an old pro.   I'm new to traveling extensively but I was eager to rattle off the dozen or so places I've visited recently. 

I proudly ticked through my short list until I got to this one.
 "And we just took a Mediterranean Cruise and stopped in Gree..." 
He immediately cut me off loudly and with a condescending eye roll.
"Oh, well that doesn't count.  Cruising is not traveling.  I wouldn't be caught dead on a cruise ship."
Dude.  Way to burst my bubble. 

I was embarrassed at the time.  I lowered my head and started scrolling through the photos on my camera intently.  This game wasn't fun any more. 

At the time, I didn't know how to respond (other than sticking my tongue out at him when he wasn't looking.)
This is what I should have had said to him.
Selena's Top 5 Reasons Cruising is Awesome

(I'm American so I can use the word "Awesome" even though I'm forty-blah-blah years old. Besides, it applies here.)

1.   Bang for Your Buck. 

Cruising is a great value, especially if you book early and look for special deals.  If you were to plan a 7 day trip including travel, similar accommodation, food and entertainment,  stopping in five countries along the way you would likely spend a lot more money.  You can book a cruise for less than £100 per day.  If you have your vacation money budgeted, a cruise might be the perfect way to get the most for your money. 

St. Johns Island

2.   Unpack once and see five countries.
One of the biggest complaints that I hear about cruising is that you are only in a place for such a short time.  I completely agree.   You can't truly experience a locale in 8 hours.   But, I've been able to spend a little bit of time in 13 countries that I would probably never experience otherwise.  If I had to chose between a little taste of a place or never visiting at all, I'm going to pick a cruise.  We consider them like a Travel Tasting and if we really love a place, then we add it to the list for a longer visit.   (I'm lookin' at you, Turkey.) 
Med Cruise

 3.    Quality Time

This is a big one for me.  I've cruised with family and friends and have always had amazing experiences.  I love cruising with Matthew.  We have so much fun!  From the research and planning to the actual experience and then all of the memories that we bring home.  This is something that we do together.  We don't have to worry about logistics or all of the stress that comes with other modes of travel.  We  relax and enjoy our time together.   After a great sleep, we wake up with a new country to explore.  And it's the only time I can get him to pose for a professional couples photo, however, unwillingly. 

Matt & Selena

4.    So Many Options


There are as many options in cruising as there are travelers.  Ships in all shapes and sizes.  Hundreds of different itineraries and places to visit.   Luxury cruise lines.  Family cruises.  Exotic locations.  Sailing ships.  With a little bit of research and knowing what you want, you can find a cruise that is perfect for you.   Another big concern is that you will feel bored or trapped on a cruise ship.  We've never had that experience.  We are in complete control and take full advantage of all of the flexibility to make it the perfect experience for us.  
Serenade of the Seas

5.    Cruising is  just FUN! 

Ohmygosh, y'all, cruising is a blast!  I love it.  There is just something about being out on the water.  I'm so addicted.  I love the smell of the sea and the wind messing up my hair.  I love hanging out at the piano bar, singing loudly and off key to every Elton John song ever recorded.  I love that relaxed and contented look on Matt's sun-kissed face as he enjoys a cigar and a cognac at the end of the day.  I love breakfast in bed.  I love ordering two starters, no main and two desserts for dinner.  I love that the bartenders know our names and drink orders after day one.  I love when Matt and I kick everyone's butt in trivia and win gold medals.  I could just go on and on.  Suffice is to say, I'm a huge fan of cruising.
Welcome Aboard Photo

I've noticed it even more on this side of the pond, but apparently people have very strong feelings about cruising.  You love it or you hate it.  But, now whenever someone makes a strong negative comment about cruising, I ask if they've actually ever been on a cruise.  I'm sure they are out there, but I've yet to meet anyone that has been on a cruise and didn't enjoy themselves.  

I realize that cruising is not for everyone.  Backpacking around the world isn't for everyone.  Neither are rollercoasters or Marmite.  But if you turn up your nose too quickly, you might just be missing out on an amazing TRAVEL experience.  (And I just might stick my tongue out at you when you aren't looking.)

What are your reservations about cruising?
What do you love about cruising?

I hope that you enjoyed the first post in the series.  

In future posts, I'll be sharing tips on how to choose the right cruise, planning shore excursions and Matt is also going to share some of his thoughts.  If you have any questions that you would like for us to address, just comment below or send me an email.  And if you are a cruiser and would like to guest post in the series, I'd love to hear from you.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

Zinio Giveaway

So you know I've been having a little bit of a rough few weeks adjusting to the end of Jessica's visit.
When I'm feeling low I love to run a hot bath, pour a glass of wine
and read a favorite American gossip magazine.
So, I've been spending a lot of time this week getting caught up on US Weekly.
Don't judge.  It's my guilty pleasure.

When I got an email from Zinio Digital Magazines & Books 
asking if I'd like to give away some digital subscriptions I jumped at the chance.
They have US weekly and my newest favorite Magazine Woman & Home, as well as 5,500 others to chose from.

And nine of you will be winning a digital subscription for the title of your choice!!
(Full disclosure, I'm so keeping one subscription for myself.)

Winners can:
  • Choose any title offered on Zinio -- *subscription length depends on which title you choose (they're all different – in the description of a particular title at you'll find how many issues comes in the subscription)
  • Live anywhere in the world
  • Must provide me with: 1) full name 2) email address 3) title of choice which I will submit to Zinio

 Once you've decided which magazine you want, you can read them on your
iPad, iPhone, Android mobile phone, tablet or laptop.
At you will also find hundreds of articles you can read for free.
Fair warning.  You may lose hours once you get started.  

So, take a quick minute to enter for your chance to win a subscription!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good Luck!!

Which magazine is your guilty pleasure?


 *I received a complimentary subscription from Zinio who is sponsoring this giveaway.
The photo was provided by Zinio.  All writing and opinions are my own.
As always, I promise to be open, honest and transparent with my readers.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Matt's Remembrances of Leningrad

Last week finished a series of posts about our amazing day in St. Petersburg.. 
This was actually Matthew's second visit to the city.
As a young schoolboy he visited when it was know as Leningrad.
I'll let him tell you all about it.

I've been to...  Russia.  Once in 1988 and again in 2013...

My second visit was on our recent Baltic cruise, which Selena has been reviewing.  For me, it was a return visit, although my previous visit had been a very different experience.  Back in 1988 the words “Glasnost” and “Perestroika” (openness and restructuring) were becoming well known in the western world as President Gorbachev edged the Soviet Union towards its inevitable dissolution.   

Despite this, Russia was still resolutely communist and the State still subsidised school tours to the country to show western kids how great their political system was.  So, despite a slight concern that I’d end up on a government list and so would never be Prime Minister, I signed up for a seven night trip to the USSR.

School Tour Leningrad
How could you turn down that itinerary?  Or those prices!
We flew into Moscow and even the immigration process was designed to show the importance of the State.  One by one, we stepped into a small booth, and as the door slammed shut behind us, we were inspected by an immigration officer who sat behind glass on an elevated platform looking down on you.  The isolation from your travelling comrades was no doubt intended to intimidate, but as the officer spoke no English, all he could do was glare at you for a moment before stamping you through.  On our recent visit, I was oddly delighted to see that the immigration booth had been retained, even if the officer now wore a much less militaristic uniform.

Aeroflot Airplane
All photos are scanned from prints made 25 years ago, so please excuse the quality.  Aeroflot, unfortunately known as Aeroflop at the time.
I remember Moscow very well.  We saw the all the usual tourist highlights, including Red Square, St Basil’s and the spectacular underground system.  We weren’t able to see Lenin himself, who was (and still is) on display in a mausoleum in Red Square.  The official explanation was that he was receiving a new coat of embalming fluid, although you could never be completely certain of the accuracy of the information you were given.  The guides were very careful to maintain the party line when talking publically, but would relax a little and give you a slightly different perspective if you asked them questions in smaller groups.

After four days in Moscow, we caught the overnight train to Leningrad (as it was called until 1991, when it was changed back to its pre-Soviet name of St Petersburg).  Leningrad came across as much more relaxed than Moscow, a feeling that was amplified by the fact that the nervous energy we’d expended in Moscow and a general lack of sleep meant we were all exhausted by the time we reached Russia’s second city.

The Hermitage
The Hermitage from the same spot we started our tour 25 years later.
Unsurprisingly, given that St Petersburg is a city of architectural splendour, many of the experiences of our recent trip were fundamentally the same as they’d been 25 years earlier.  St. Isaac’s cathedral was just as imposing and the Hermitage was just as astonishing (although there’d been far less people there a quarter of a century ago!).  We didn’t go to the Church of the Spilled Blood in 1988 (and I don’t remember even having seen it), and we didn’t go inside the Kazan Cathedral (although I have photographic proof we went past it). 

 Communism wasn’t keen on religion, and many churches were converted to Museums of Atheism during the Soviet years.  I suspect that taking a group of youngsters from a Church of England school into a decommissioned church to explain how misguided we all were to believe in a supreme being was a step to far even for the Communist propaganda department.

Kazan Cathedral
The Leningrad Museum of Atheism, or the Kazan Cathedral as its better known.
Despite the cult of Communism, it was impossible to deny the significance of Peter the Great to the City.  The statue of him on his horse was an important stop, and we spent an entire day at his summer palace in Petrodvorets (as it was called in 1988 – the name had changed to Peterhof by 2013).

Peter the Great
Peter the Great
When you also consider the treasures on display in the Hermitage, the Communists could not hide their imperial past.  The “party line” was how irresponsible it had been for the aristocracy to be wasting its resources on lavish frivolities when the majority of the population was living in poverty.  That may be a valid point, but we all agreed that the exquisite imperial craftsmanship was vastly more interesting than the post-imperial achievements we’d seen in the various museums of Soviet agriculture and industry.

View from the Hermitage
View from the Hermitage

I could talk about a hundred more memories from the trip – the greyness of the concrete buildings; the empty shops; the long queues that appeared from nowhere whenever one of those shops received a delivery.  I vividly remember the crowd that gathered to look at the Westerners leaving their hotel each morning - due to hotel renovations, we stayed in University accommodation in parts of the cities that had never previously hosted Westerners.
I wasn’t converted to communism by my visit – quite the contrary in fact.  However, in one specific way, I preferred visiting the communist city of Leningrad of 1988.  Capitalism has brought wealth, which has attracted the cruise ships, which bring tourists.  Lots of tourists.  Visiting Leningrad was an intimate experience, where the focus was on the city itself.  Visiting modern St. Petersburg was all about seeing what we could before the sheer weight of people spoiled the experience.  I was one of those cruisers, so I can’t really complain, but I did find myself yearning for the tranquility and quirkiness I’d experienced in 1988.

It is so interesting to see the same photos from his trip in 1988 at the young age of 17. 
I tried to get him to post a few of himself but he wouldn't.  

I love when he guest posts and I hope you do too!!

You can find all of the posts about our day in St. Petersburg here...

Vodka Cruise

Have you visited Leningrad or St. Petersburg?
I'd love to hear about your trip.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Capture the Colour Photo Blogging Challenge

 You've probably seen some of the Capture the Colour Photo Blogging Challenge posts floating around the web.
I was tagged by two of my friends, Jaklien at Passport and Toothbrush and Molly at The Move to America and I'm thrilled to participate.  
My assignment...  "publish a blog post showcasing five of your favourite travel photographs which best capture the colour of our five categories: red, blue, green, yellow and white."
So here are my submissions.


 Capture the Colour Photo Blogging Challenge


 Capture the Colour Photo Blogging Challenge


 Capture the Colour Photo Blogging Challenge


 Capture the Colour Photo Blogging Challenge


 Capture the Colour Photo Blogging Challenge

Blue//A bright blue lizard sunning on a rock in Aruba
Red//Red leaves at Blenheim Palace, UK
Green//Brances from Anne Hathaway's Cottage in Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK
Yellow//Dew kissed English rose in Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK
White//Horse from Mary Arden's Farm in Sratford-Upon-Avon, UK

Here are the instructions for Capture the Colour Photo Blogging Challenge from TravelSupermarket
Step 1 - Publish a Capture the Colour post on your blog with an image for each colour
Step 2 - Spread the word and nominate 5 of your fellow bloggers to take part
Step 3 - Let us know you've entered by tweeting or emailing us

Step 4 - Keep an eye on the TravelSupermarket Twitter account to find out who wins!

To get involved with the conversation on Twitter follow the hashtag #CTC13.

I am nominating the following bloggers:
Gina from Sweet Serenity
Jade from Jade Moat
Amy from Via Fontanelle
Tina from Girl Meets Globe
Sarah from The Wanderblogger 
and You! (Consider yourself tagged.)

I can't wait to see what your colorful photos!

Have a great week!! 

Monday, September 23, 2013

And just like that...

And just like that, Jessica's visit has ended.
Ten wonderful days will never be enough, but I'm so incredibly thankful for every second.
It's such an odd dynamic, these short visits from my daughter.
Stressful, exciting, wonderful and soul nourishing.

As her arrival got closer, I got more and more wound up.
I was so tightly strung that I would burst into tears at the most random times for months before she arrived.  I think we waited way too long between visits.  Fifteen months is the longest I've ever gone between hugs and it was unbearable.

And then finally she was here!  I was once again complete.
I no longer held on to my phone as a lifeline and connection. 
If I wanted to know that she was okay, I just had to glance over at that gorgeous smile.
I laughed a little more freely and slept a little more deeply while she was so close.

We kept pretty busy.  Brunch to introduce her to our London friends.  BBC Proms in the Park.  Paris!
Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.  Pub Dinners.  London Scavenger Hunt.
But we also just spent a few days relaxing at home and doing nothing.
I tried not to feel guilty that we weren't filling every minute with London attractions,
but I think we both just needed to be together with nothing else happening.

We fell right back into normal patterns that we've been spent her lifetime developing.
I nagged.  She pushed my buttons.  There may have been some eye-rolling on both our parts.
We both spent time looking at our phones that we could have spent talking to each other instead.
We slept.  (Girl can sleep!)  Again, I tried not to feel guilty that every second wasn't spent intently focused on each other.  But, that's just not realistic, is it?

From the minute I spotted her walking through the doors of arrivals at Heathrow,
I felt like a clock the size of Big Ben had lodged itself in my heart.
Tick.  She's here!   Tock.  She's leaving soon.
Tick.  I can breathe!   Tock.  Only ten days.
Of course, they flew by.  She's now home in Texas living her life.
I'm here living mine, admittedly after a low few days of readjusting to her absence.

And there is a new quiet, steady ticking in my heart.
Tick.  She's not here.  Tock.  I'll see her soon.
Tick.  I can't breathe.  Tock.  Only 12 weeks.

I love you madly, Child of MIne!!!
I'll see you soon.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Vodka Tasting in St. Petersburg, Russia

We started our day in Russia watching the sun rise over the water.
It seemed appropriate that we also end our day on the water while watching the sun set.

Vodka Tasting River Cruise

Our day tour ended at 6pm when Irina dropped us off back at the ship with a warm hug.  We still had 4 hours before we set sail.  There was no way we were going to waste it aboard the ship, so after a quick hour to freshen up, we headed back out through passport control.  This time we were met by Inna from TJ Travel (Sergei was our driver for both tours)  for an evening tour including a vodka tasting and river cruise.

Vodka Tasting River Cruise

We boarded a little boat thinking that we would be joining other tourists, but it ended up just being me, Matthew and Inna.  She provided us with some wonderful zakuski's (snacks) and a small bottle of vodka.  After teaching us how to drink the vodka the Russian way (deep breath, drink it down in one shot and take a bite of a snack) we relaxed into an amazing boat tour of the city. 

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

Matt collects bank notes and was thrilled to point out that the view we were passing was the same one on the notes in his pocket.

St. Petersburg, Russia

I still can not get over our day in St. Petersburg.  It was fascinating and inspiring.  I will never forget sitting at the back of that boat with Matthew, looking out over this amazing city and thinking "I'm in Russia.  How did I ever get here?" and then "How will I get back?"

(A special thank you to Tatyana, Irina, Sergei, Inna and Olga with TJ Travel for coordinating our day in this amazing city and getting us safely back to the ship in plenty of time for sail away.)

Have you been to Russia?  What was your experience?


   *Our day excursions with TJ Travel were complimentary for the purposes of review.  We were so happy with their service that we booked our evening tour with them at the standard rate. 
All photos, writing and opinions are 100% my own.
As always, I promise to be open, honest and transparent with my readers.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Peterhof - the Capital of Fountains

 This week I'm featuring *photo essays from our day in St. Petersburg with TJ Travel.
During the afternoon, we took a hydrofoil boat to the Peterhof Palace, the imperial palace and park designed by Peter the Great at the beginning of the 18th Century.  We didn't actually go into the Grand Palace but did tour the smaller Monplaisir Palace, a small summer palace. 

Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia

When you arrive by boat the first site that greats you is the Grand Cascade that runs from the water's edge all the way to the entrance of the Palace.  There are 64 fountains and over 200 statues covered in gold leaf. 

Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia

Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia

Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia

The gardens are full of unique fountains and water features.  The entire system is gravity-fed. 

Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia

Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia

Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia

Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia

Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia

Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia

Apparently, Peter the Great was a big joker and enjoyed getting his noble guests wet. Like this little pathway.  Several times a day, the guy in the green overalls turns the crank and the street is drenched with streams of water.  There are trees that spray water and fountains that squirt you if you are unlucky enough to step on a certain brick.  And watch where you sit, the guy hidden behind the tree in a green box just might turn on the tap.

Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia

Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia

Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia

Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia

Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia
Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia

Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia

You can see why it is often called "The Russian Versaille" or "The Capital of Fountains."


*I hope you don't consider my "photo essays" as a cover for lazy blogging.  We saw so much during those 15 hours in St. Petersburg and I really want to share it with you.